French Word of the Day: nickel

French Word of the Day: nickel
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This handy French word has nothing to do with metal but it can add a shine to your daily conversations.

Why do I need to know nickel?

Nickel is a handy little slang word that comes in useful as a way of mixing up your responses to ca va? particularly if you're in a positive mood and it can also be used when you've had the duster out. 

Confused? Read on…

So, what does it mean?

Literally nickel has the same meaning as 'nickel' (as in the metal) in English. 

But in French slang it means 'great', 'awesome', 'perfect', as well as 'spotless' and 'spick and span'.

So, the next time someone says ca va? to you, why not avoid the usual responses of ca va and bien merci and reply with a snappy nickel, et toi? (great – and you?). 

On top of that you can say c'est nickel to mean 'it's amazing' or 'it's perfect'. 

For example, Bravo, la pièce est bien réussie, rien à dire, c'est nickel. (Bravo, the piece has done very well, nothing to say, it's amazing).

You can also use nickel to mean that something is clean, so for example: J'ai fait le ménage, les tapis sont nickel. (I did the housework, the rugs are spotless.)

But nickel isn't only used in informal settings – it can also be used in a formal setting to mean 'impeccable' and 'immaculate' just like its more casual meaning of 'spick and span'. 

How can I use nickel?

C'était bien passé hier soir? – C'était nickel!

Did it go well last night? – It was great!

Tout est rangé – Oui, c'est nickel!

Is everything tidy? – Yes, it's spotless!


If you want to express the sense that something is perfect instead of nickel you could use the more formal c'est parfait.

And if you want to say something is 'spotless' or 'spick and span' you could instead say c'est net (it's neat) or c'est propre (it's clean). 

Word origin

Using the word nickel as a way of expressing enthusiasm is said to originate from the army at the beginning of the 20th century.

Apparently it is all to do with the weapons which had to be kept in impeccable condition, shining so brightly that it reminded the soldiers of nickel – a silvery white metal known for its purity which, when polished, gives off a brilliant shine. 

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